By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said Friday that Tupelo doesn’t have to follow the path of other cities that have watched older neighborhoods decline and residents leave, “but it will take some work” to avoid such a fate.
That includes a commitment to using some of the city’s ample cash reserves for neighborhood redevelopment projects like the one currently under way on West Jackson Street, Reed said.
His remarks were made to fellow members of the Tupelo Kiwanis Club in a talk summarizing his four years in office, with special emphasis on efforts to revitalize blighted neighborhoods and attract and retain middle-class families, a cornerstone of his administration. Reed, who did not seek re-election, leaves office at the end of this month.
Concerns about neighborhood decline and its effect on the city’s viability and growth – which came to the fore with 2010 Census data – are nothing new, Reed noted. He pointed to a 1996 CREATE Foundation study that predicted already evident trends, if not reversed, would hurt Tupelo and its public school system. It recommended coordination of anti-blight efforts around the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corp.
“Where have we been since 1996 in putting any political muscle behind these very prescient recommendations?” Reed asked.
Reed and a City Council majority currently disagree over the mayor’s recommendation that the NDC serve as the city’s buying and selling authority for the project on West Jackson Street – an area specifically mentioned in the 17-year-old study as a starting point for city-financed neighborhood renewal.
Without effective, long-term, city-backed initiatives to reverse neighborhood decline, Reed said, Tupelo risks becoming like Jackson, with prosperous suburbs ringing a steadily declining core as people move out to escape blight and crime.
Tupelo still has many assets, including vibrant neighborhoods, to build on and such a scenario isn’t inevitable, he said.
“I’m convinced after four years that that does not have to happen,” he said. “That is not inevitable in Tupelo.”
But a willingness to take advantage of the city’s healthy financial situation to reinvest in renewal is required, he said.
Financial analysts say the city needs $8.5 million in cash reserves to be safe, Reed said, and it currently has $20 million in the bank drawing minimal interest. “Are we being a good steward having that money just sit there? We’re not supposed to be a bank. Why not invest in ourselves … this is a very practical way we can help everybody who lives in Tupelo.”